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Monday, October 31, 2011  

A Good Day to Die, Part 2

The evening before we left town, we discovered that my Saturn wasn't the only thing on its last legs.

Before bringing Bucky up to the neighbor's house so he could stay with them, as is his custom when we go out of town, I thought it best to clean his cage out, as is my custom. Still kind of wound up from my whole car situation we'd had to deal with that day, I carried the cage into the bathroom (a smaller room with fewer hiding places than M. Edium's bedroom), along with the bag of aspen bedding, a plastic shopping bag to dispose of the used bedding, his food, and his exercise ball. He likes to roll around in his ball while I clean the cage, and I'm happy to oblige. Although I'd be even happier if he switched roles with me, so I could roll around in a ball and he could clean the smelly hamster cage.

But the ritual was a little different this time. Usually he comes out of his little plastic house the moment I lift the cage, to see what's going on. Even if he's deeply asleep, he's usually up and around by the time I set the cage on the bathroom floor, and when I've removed the wire top from the plastic pan, he's usually ready to go. But this time he just stayed in his little house.

We've been noticing signs that he was reaching the end of the one- to two-year lifespan that dwarf hamsters normally enjoy. He'd been slowing down, not spending as much time in his wheel. He didn't seem to be eating as much. Oh, and the bald little pinkynail-sized tumor we'd spotted on his belly over the summer, which are apparently quite common and don't generally cause the little guys any pain, had ballooned to the size of…well, the size of Bucky.

For months, he hadn't seemed to mind or even notice it, not that he ever reacts to much beyond a sunflower seed handed to him. But the dried blood I discovered in his exercise wheel one morning a couple of weeks ago seemed like a serious sign, and that's when I started preparing M. Edium for the reality that Bucky might not be around too much longer. And Trash and I got into the habit of peeking into the cage to make sure he was still breathing. Which he always was.

Pet death isn't an entirely abstract thing to M. Edium. He remembers the deaths of our late cats Strat and Turtle a few years ago, but this would be the first time losing a pet that was all his. He's always understood that Bucky would have a short life no matter how well we cared for him. I think he got it. But he had one question I didn't have an answer for:

"What if he dies when we're in New York?"

Well, the night before I left, I watched Bucky sit motionless in the ball where I'd just tucked him. Then I gently tipped him back out onto the floor and watched as he helplessly wobbled on the tumor that, as of that day, was now preventing all four of his feet from touching the ground at the same time. And I decided that no, he wasn't going to die when we were in New York. But there was obviously only one way to prevent that, because he wasn't going to make it another two days, let alone five.

So when M. Edium got home that evening, Trash and I broke the news that Bucky had gotten much worse, and that the time had come. He agreed that no, he didn't want Bucky to die in pain, hours or days from now, in a less familiar house with people who, as much as they like him, aren't his family. We explained that we were going to bring him up to the vet (which, thank God, happens to be open late on Tuesdays), where the doctor would give him something that would help him go to sleep and then Bucky would be dead.

M. Edium nodded bravely through the welling tears, curled up in Trash's lap, and informed us that he was coming with us. Which, bravely, he did.

Soon all four of us were in the exam room we've been inside the least since we started taking pets there. The one with the comfortable furniture, and the hand-painted mural of Pet Heaven on the wall. It turns out hamsters aren't euthanized the same way cats are, with a simple injection. Bucky would be taken downstairs, in his food bowl where he'd been sitting motionless in since I'd finished cleaning his cage, and placed into a small Plexiglas case that would be pumped full of general anesthetic, and then he'd get the injection. Apparently even experienced vets have trouble finding a vein in a creature the size of a donut hole.

This was too much for M. Edium, who decided to retire to the lobby with Trash while I accompanied Bucky downstairs. It took a surprising amount of time for him to lose consciousness, although it may have been less than we thought because in his current state, consciousness wasn't too far from unconsciousness. But eventually he was out, the doctor gave him the shot, and that was the end of Bucky.

This was sad enough, but while downstairs, I didn't get the text from Trash. Apparently the permanence of death had finally hit M. Edium while he was waiting with Trash in the lobby, and he wanted to give Bucky one last petting and goodbye. So it was a bit of a surprise to return to that exam room and find him and Trash back in there as well, expecting just that.

He took it well, though, and I quickly chased down the sympathetic vet tech who had just boxed Bucky up for cremation, and retrieved the cardboard coffin. So M. Edium was able to give a last goodbye and pet to his little friend, who frankly was as responsive as he would have been had I gotten the text in time.

M. Edium also decided he didn't want cremation, but to bury Bucky in the back yard. So after we'd gotten the little clay imprint of Bucky's paws with the letters of his name and a heart stamped into it, we made the short drive home in the dark. But it wasn't too short for him to take Bucky out of the box and unwrap the washcloth so he could look at him. And then box him back up and pass him to the front seat so we could, too.

And when we got home, at a time not long before M. Edium's bedtime, on a day that had already gone completely pear-shaped, with so much left to do before we left town, we were out in the space that used to be the vegetable garden, digging a grave by the light of a flashlight and camping lantern. After a couple of feet of hacking through tree roots, M. Edium decided it was deep enough. We carefully placed the box inside and dropped clots of dirt over it until the ground was again firm and level. M. Edium moved a fancy tomato-ladder over to the spot as a marker, said goodbye, and we went inside. Given how his sadness over the death of his pet was warring with excitement over flying to New York the next day, he had a very difficult time indeed getting to sleep.

And given that the last thing he said before he did was to share his plans to dig up Bucky and look at him again when we got home, so did I.

posted by M. Giant 9:49 PM 4 comments


I too had a late moment of wanting additional closure. Unfortunately, it came the next day & by then the fire had claimed its due.

(They had asked me if I wanted 'a bit of fur' from my 17 yr old cat who I had had for... well.. as far as I was concerned, forever. In my addled, grieving state, I somehow thought that meant that they were going to skin her & give me a bit of her 'pelt' and I stared at the veterinary assistant like she was Goebbels, wept, screamed and ran away. Only later that night did I learn that they just meant a bit of shaved fur for colour/softness and desperately tried to track down a paging service for the animal crematorium. No luck.)

By Blogger Kangarara, at October 31, 2011 at 10:09 PM  

Well now M. Giant, I've been reading you anonymously for years, but that was so moving, so poignant and so darn funny (in all the right places) that I just had to say thanks. Don't ever forget that you have a lot of fans out there on the Internets.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at October 31, 2011 at 11:22 PM  

Yup. What Anonymous said.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at November 1, 2011 at 5:21 AM  

Dittoing the Anonymice.

By Anonymous Katie L., at November 1, 2011 at 8:00 PM  

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